Nuclear Disaster In France Would Cost 20% Of France's GDP, France's Institute Of Nuclear Safety Finds

Published on February 15th, 2013 | by

February 15th, 2013 by

Quite frankly, nuclear reactors already costs too much even if they don’t run into any problems. The financial risk of nuclear power plants means that they are never funded by the private sector. If a new nuclear power plant is to get funded, is must do so through considerable governmental or utility support and subsidy.

But hey, financial common sense doesn’t exist in a lot of places, and some governments and utilities are actually moving forward with new nuclear projects (though, an increasing number of them are being dropped). Plus, a lot of nuclear power plants are already up and running. So, a look at the disaster risks associated with nuclear power plants, as well as the costs those disasters could reach, is worth a look.

Nuclear power plant in France via Shutterstock
Nuclear power plant in France via Shutterstock

France is arguably the nuclear leader of the world — a considerable portion of its electricity supply comes from nuclear power plants. Let’s just hope that none of the nuclear reactors there run into problems — a recent study by France’s Institute of Nuclear Safety (aka Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, or IRSN), released by Eurosafe, tried to calculate the total economic costs of nuclear accidents of varying degrees in France, and the results are staggering.

From the abstract: “IRSN has been working on the cost of nuclear accidents, an exercise which must strive to be as comprehensive as possible since any omission obviously underestimates the cost. It therefore provides (ideally) an estimate of all cost components, thus revealing the structure of accident costs, and hence sketching a global picture.”

You can check out the full 7-page paper that Eurosafe released to read in depth about the costs. But, I’ll put a few details down below. First, however, here are the general findings:

  1. “A Severe Nuclear Accident In France Would Be A National Disaster But Would Nevertheless Be Manageable.”
  2. “A Major Nuclear Accident In France Would Be An Unmanageable European Catastrophy”

Regarding #1 above, the Eurosafe paper adds: “A total cost of € 120b is quite significant for France…. The annual French GDP being around € 2000b, a representative severe nuclear accident could imply losses around 6% of annual GDP. Costs would not affect one year’s GDP but be spread out over a period of time, the greater part of costs occurring within the first three years after the accident. In total, losses would correspond to 3-6 years of economic growth depending on growth performance. It would, therefore, be a disaster of national significance. Variations in cost due to site location exist but are not major.” (Much more commentary is available in the paper.)

Regarding #2 above, the paper writes: “Radiological consequences could cost more than € 160b after a major nuclear accident, i.e. 8 times more than for a typical severe accident and more than the total cost of a severe accident. Offsite radiological costs would be multiplied by 6. Costs related to contaminated territories exceed 5% of annual GDP. Such figures suggest the extreme radiological severity of such accidents.

“Perhaps an easier way to give a feel for the extent of contamination is to estimate the number of radiological refugees, i.e. the population of exclusion zones, people who need to be permanently relocated. They could typically number 100 000 persons
− which would be extremely difficult to manage.

“Expected numbers of cancers would be high. Psychological impacts would be significant. Quantities of lost agricultural produce to be disposed of would be considerable. Management ofcontaminated territories (apart from exclusion zones) would remain an on-going challenge for many years. Neighboring countries would often also suffer from contamination.

“Such extensive radiological impacts would impose widespread suffering to affected populations. Corresponding costs could be termed ‘human’ costs and could elicit among decision makers a high level of willingness to pay for prevention. In total, ‘human’ costs would represent about 40% of total costs but might weigh more heavily in decisions….

“In total, a typical major accident could cost more than € 400b, i.e. more than 20% of annual French GDP, more than 10 years’ economic growth. For lack of other references, this can be compared to the cost of waging a regional war. The country would durably be stunned by such a blow, History would remember the catastrophe for many years, Western Europe would be affected.”

Any wonder why country after country is abandoning nuclear power? (Aside from the fact that solar and wind power are already cheaper than new nuclear power.)

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